Walking the Talk: Next Steps for the Empowered Educators Research

Miki Aristorenas
by Miki Aristorenas

This month, lead researcher of the NCEE-supported international comparative study of teacher quality systems in the world’s top performers, Empowered Educators, Linda Darling-Hammond, and NCEE president and CEO, Marc Tucker, sat down with two podcast hosts to discuss what’s next for the landmark comparative study.

On FreshEd with Will Brehm, “a weekly podcast that makes complex ideas in education research easily understood”, the host focused the discussion with Darling-Hammond on how policymakers in the United States might actually apply lessons on teacher quality policy from high-performing systems around the world.

Darling-Hammond emphasized that a central element of the Empowered Educators research was to consistently consider what might be transferrable from other countries to the United States, recognizing that some elements of any system are so highly contextual that their applicability would be more limited.

“We tried for the reader and for people who may use the work to illuminate both the specific practices, where they grew up in the contexts and what sort of principles might apply if one wanted to carry these ideas elsewhere,” she said.

Brehm probed further on this point and asked for specifics of how the lessons can be applied in the United States.

In short, according to Darling-Hammond, it all comes down to the states and it is critical now more than ever for them to take action.

“States are predominantly responsible for education in the U.S., they are often about the size of the small nations we studied and have similar governance,” said Darling Hammond.

Darling-Hammond cited particular lessons that can be adapted at the state level including the importance of equalizing funding for schools.

“In the U.S. we have such unequal funding within schools and districts that we start with the expectations that there are likely to be teacher shortages in some parts of the states and not in others based on funding,” she said.

Darling-Hammond also discussed the fact that there are fewer teacher training institutions in the jurisdictions she studied, a lesson for states to put a greater emphasis on high-quality teacher preparation rather than quantity.

While, according to Darling-Hammond, there is a gridlock at the federal level and the issues of a professional teaching force are not particularly on the table, she said that states are the main place where responsibility lies and they have the authority to adapt best practices from around the world.

On NPR’s Teaching Matters podcast, Marc Tucker described the current state of the teaching profession to Scott Titsworth, podcast host and Dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.

“There are now acute shortages of teachers all over the United States,” said Tucker. “The response from state legislatures is to wipe away the already very low standards for becoming a teacher. In effect they are basically saying if we can’t find teachers who have strong qualifications, we would prefer to have somebody, anybody standing in front of our kids than to have an empty classroom. That is where we are now heading.”

In concluding the conversation with Teaching Matters, Darling-Hammond and Tucker again pointing to the essential role of state policy makers in driving systemic change, pointed to the 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which returned the locus of education reform back to the states, as an opportunity for real systems change.  They argued that states are now uniquely positioned to develop stronger teaching and learning systems and substantially increase their supply of highly skilled teachers.

Both Darling-Hammond and Tucker, with their respective organizations — LPI and NCEE — have worked extensively with state policymakers on issues related to teacher quality and systems change.  Both expressed optimism to the podcast hosts that more and more states are beginning to see the vital role of systems thinking in improving teaching and learning in their schools.

Listen to the two podcasts below to hear the complete interviews.

Episode 116: “Empowered Educators” w/ Linda Darling Hammond and Marc Tucker

Episode 102: Empowered Educators (Linda Darling-Hammond)